04/03/2013 04:39 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2013

Learning the Landscape of Parenthood

Hey, let's be honest, There's no manual for raising teenagers.

Sure, there's plenty of parenting books on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, but what happens when your kid decides not to follow the linear timeline your particular parenting favorite outlines? I mean really, how many times have we tried to do exactly what we read, but end up failing because our kid can't be put into some box described by the latest psychologist? The landscapes of parenting difference are too many to put in one or two books.

I've been working with teens for the last 15 years, and by no means have the answers for how to guarantee you raise a productive member of society, but I do have a unique perspective. I've hosted almost 12,000 teenagers out at our Colorado teen resort called KIVU. I've been in the frey with teen conferences, small groups, and educators at a variety of schools; learning the best way to help coach teenagers through the emerging adult years.

Here are a few things I find notable as we lock arms together to coach our kids.

1.) Raising adults is not the same as raising kids

I think it's important when we identify our role as parents we take a philosophical paradigm shift from raising kids to raising adults. Early in childhood development, it's important to make sure our elementary kids know what's safe and what's not safe.

Don't touch that -- it's hot.
Don't play there -- a car might not see you.
Don't climb that -- you might fall.

These are lessons a young child learns through the first 13 years of life to build a foundation. A five-year-old may not know when you climb a tree you have to figure out how to get down, but a 15-year-old needs to begin the slow process of deciding how to see possible consequences of behavior.

I spoke to a group of parents recently where a mother declared, "Well, we don't give our kids iPhones until they're 10. That's just the rule at our house." And somehow I was supposed to get on board with that decision.

Look, I've got nothing against iPhones, but a 10-year-old needs some additional coaching as to the benefits and dangers of holding the Internet in the palm of their hand.

Another mother chimed in, "Well, we monitor our 18-year-old's history every time they come home to make sure they're not diving into anything they shouldn't." To which I had to remark, "When are your kids going to have the freedom to decide what they are able to and not able to handle?"

You see, early childhood development requires someone with rules and regulations. The emerging adult years are uniquely situated in our culture to coach students to be able to make decisions on their own.

Will your kid fail?

YES!, they're kids. But that's a great time to come alongside them and help them understand the consequences of behavior. We need more parents willing to let their teenagers fail under their roof, instead of insulating them from the world until the final time they step out of the house.

Remember, there's a difference between raising kids and raising adults. Today we have the sacred honor of helping our kids down a road of good decision making.

You're not a successful parent until your kids can start making adult decisions and live with the consequences of the decisions they've made. Again, there's no 1,2,3's to being able to do this because...

2.) Each teenager is uniquely fashioned to do something

I recently released a book called ALONE: Finding Connection in a Lonely World. One of my chapters is dedicated to understanding how to notice and encourage each student in their unique skill set.

So often we employ the "If you only work hard enough, you can be whatever you want." I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don't buy that mantra! Some students weren't created to play in the NFL, the NBA, or the NHL. It doesn't mean they are less than human, it just means their gifts are in different areas. I've seen natural athletes, athletes that work hard, and athletes that work so hard to reach a goal they are never going to realize.

I recently had a conversation with a National Championship Soccer Recruiter. I told him how we try to help parents decide how much time, energy, and financial resource into their kid's athletic development. He told me a sobering story:

"Andy, If I was out recruiting a soccer team, I would go to the conference championships and club showcases where thousands of soccer players would vie for a 'look.' Let me be honest, I came to those games with a list of players I wanted to see in person, and I would watch the game for five minutes to confirm my preconceived idea they would be a good fit for our team. I saw hundreds of parents trying to get their kid on my radar screen, and I'm just telling you, I don't care if they scored goals during the game. I knew what I wanted BEFORE we even got to the event."

I started thinking about how much energy is being put into high school sports, and I know there are certain values that can only be learned on a field or a court. But I do know, some kids were born to play basketball, football, or baseball; but a large percentage are simply not cut out to go to the next level.

Someone might employ the argument, "Well, Michael Jordan didn't quit." But let's be honest, Michael Jordan was gifted first, and then worked like crazy! Without one or the other, Michael Jordan wouldn't be the most important figure in basketball during the last few decades.

I guess what I'm saying is this:

As a parent, if your teenager is gifted to play a sport, then by all means, get them to the combine. But if they have gifts and abilities in other areas, it's our job to discern what those gifts are and encourage them where they are. So many of our kids are walking through life all alone because they're being put into positions they'll never be able to achieve. The pressure of living an American teenage life today is exhausting. If we can help them find the "a-ha" factor then our parenting becomes less about trying to make something of them, and allowing them to succeed in the areas they are already gifted to do.

3.) Quality outweighs quantity every time

I've got a bit of a different home schedule than most dads. I travel quite a bit helping to coach parents in teen understanding. So I'm out of my own home A LOT! But every time I come home, I try to spend quality time with each one of my teenagers. I try to make sure I'm dialed in to what's going on at school, how they are doing with their friends, and encourage them in the dreams they have for where they want to go in life.

The other day my oldest son was telling me about his dreams to fly airplanes for the U.S. Navy. I sat and listened to all the different styles of planes, the history of how each plane came to be, and the advantages of each Naval aircraft in certain situations.

I don't know ANYTHING about airplanes.

But for the sake of my son understanding how much I'm willing to be interested in his life, the quality time spent listening to what HE was interested in meant the world. He even said, "Dad, I'm glad you're my dad."


How many of us long for our kids to just acknowledge the hard work to make sure they understand how much we care about them. To have your son look you in the eye and make a statement of admiration... well, there's not much better I can imagine. By the way... I'm glad he's my son too.

The landscape of parenting requires real work. It's the small print nobody ever told us about before we had kids. I believe the best way we can fashion our own parenting style is to hear the successes and failures those of us who have paved the way before us, and listen as they share with those of us who are engaged in the daily battle.

We need mentors, coaches, and parent advisers to help us know what made the difference in their particular situation. No two teenagers are going to be the same, but we can take simple philosophical lessons and try to apply them to our own home.

For those of you who have pointers for us: Please feel free to share below. We're listening as we try to make it through the teenage years.